[educatie] research table

Artist Research Table

By presenting The Research Table in the Exhibition Baanbreker/Trailblazers we would like to tap into collective intelligence to expand the research of Dr. Jaleen Grove on Diverse Genders in Illustration. Contribute here to the list

Dr. Jaleen Grove is an Associate Professor in Illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design, USA. She co-edited History of Illustration (Bloomsbury, 2018), the first textbook on the topic, and authored Oscar Cahén: Life and Work (Art Canada Institute, 2015). Her most recent publication is a chapter in Nineteenth-Century Women Illustrators and Cartoonists (Manchester University Press, 2023) https://manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk/9781526161697/ . Grove maintains a studio practice as well, with an essay on illustration research appearing in the open access journal Colouring In (2023) https://www.colouring-in.com/ . 

Women’s Work in Writing History

In 2018 I had the opportunity to design a new course, Diverse Genders in Illustration, that combines liberal arts and studio practice. Students use the history of women illustrators (and cartoonists, designers, printmakers, and animators) to inspire their own practices; and to connect historical conditions to present-day experiences in order to better understand the systemic and cultural origins of current career challenges. Students research and compose an illustrated biography of a foremother, in the form of a zine, poster, instant book, or other format. Since a handy reference book with the scope I needed did not yet exist, I began compiling a list of practitioners to give my students research leads.

The real beginning, however, was in the early 1990s when at age 22, I was fired from a design job because, as the only woman in the workplace, the boss thought I was “disruptive,” since a few of the men enjoyed talking to me at lunch. 

The personal is political, and also a calling. In the decades in between I sought reasons and survival skills for this sexism by learning the history of prior female graphic arts professionals. First it was my work on the British illustrator Olive Allen Biller (1879-1957), an initially graphically cheeky young woman who, under the pressures of being a “girl” in Edwardian British print culture, suppressed her spirit in print and eventually gave up illustrating after becoming a widow and single mother.[1] Then it was an examination of the early female editorship and illustrators of Canada’s long-running women’s magazine, Chatelaine.[2]

In 2017-19, my study of canon formation took an especial interest in gender, using data-driven methods to put some actual numbers to frequent—but frequently challenged—claims that women illustrators have been discriminated against.[3] Predictable spoiler: only 10% of the names in English-language “best of” lists before 1970 are women, and when samples of artworks pictured in those annals are counted up, that drops to 7%. Take the children’s book specialization out and women’s names sink to 5.5%. In the few “best of” lists for non-Anglophone countries, women’s representation was just 2.3%. Overall, female writers always recorded more women than male writers did.

I ended that study noting that the story is bound to change once non-English histories are assessed. I am pleased to now share my nascent list, which as a simple classroom tool was not composed with any particular rigour, with a wider audience.  The input of those with different knowledge and languages are needed. We cannot take the inclusion of women’s history for granted, nor count on that inclusion to be maintained. As I write this, a petition remains open to return Kate Greenaway’s name to the prestigious medal for illustration that had been named in her honour since 1955.[4]  As in the past, once again women must make sure women are remembered. 

[1] “Olive Allen and the Graphic Nonchalance of the Modern Girl, Illustrated,” in Nineteenth-Century Women Illustrators and Cartoonists, edited by Joanna Devereux. Manchester University Press, 268-291.

[2] “A Castle of One’s Own: Interactivity in Chatelaine Magazine, 1928-1935.” Journal of Canadian Studies, Vol. 45, Issue 3 (Fall): 166-187.

[3] “Illustrator Identity in the Historical Record, 1830-1970: A Quantitative, Bibliographic Inquiry into Canon and Renown,” Nathalie Collé and Monica Latham, gen. eds. and dirs. Sophie Aymes, Brigitte Friant-Kessler and Maxime Leroy, guest eds. Illustrating Identity-ies / Illustrer l’identité. Vol. 10. Collection Book Practices & Textual Itineraries. Nancy: Presses Universitaires de Nancy – Éditions Universitaires de Lorraine, 2020.

[4] https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/bring-back-the-kate-greenaway-medal